Ottawa should have a billboard proclaiming: “Welcome to the City of Festivals.” There is a festival for almost any occasion, culture or food on almost every weekend in the nation’s capital.
The Ottawa Grassroots Festival is one of the earliest festivals of the year, emerging once the snow has vanished and crocuses have poked through. With attendance growing year after year, this annual celebration of community arts and entertainment offers a full lineup of some of the best folk music and spoken word artists in the city and across the country. Past headliners have included: Garnet Rogers, Connie Kaldor, Old Man Luedecke, Stef Paquette, Durham County Poets and Mélanie Brulée. This year, the headliners pay homage to incredible local talent. The festival takes place indoors in a fully accessible venue – Southminster United Church in Old Ottawa South – from April 26 to 29.
Grassroots Saturday evening, April 28, kicks off with an address by Algonquin elder Albert Dumont, followed by singer-songwriter Campbell Woods who will open for headliner Lynn Miles, Ottawa’s crown jewel. Miles is a Juno-award-winning songwriter who will be performing with Keith Glass. Lynn has 12 albums to her credit and is currently touring. She is set to release a CD in late May with another local favourite, Lynne Hanson, as “The LYNNeS” project.
“Lynn has been performing in the Ottawa area since the ’70s,” says Bob Nesbitt, founder and festival producer. “She is a gifted performer and so well respected among artists, communities and her devoted fan base.” Lynn is known for her dark songs, balanced by her sense of humour.
Another homegrown legend that will be performing is Sneezy Waters, also known as “Ottawa’s first busker.” Waters will headline the Friday, April 27 evening of the festival along with his Very Fine Band comprising musicians Dave Bignell and Vince Halfhide – guitars, Ed Bimm – keyboards, Ann Downey – upright bass and Peter Beaudoin – drums. Waters was a staple in the local coffee house scene in the 1970s, performed in Asia then returned to hit the streets of Ottawa. They play an eclectic range of music, blending jazz, blues, folk, country, rock, reggae and African music.
An important tradition is the opening night devoted to showcasing francophone artists. This year, the evening headliner is franco-folk artist Jean-Marc Lalonde, best known as the accordionist for the traditional group La Ligue du Bonheur, as well as the folk-rock band Deux Saisons and his latest project: Hey, Wow! The evening is themed “Pardon My French” and the audience is guaranteed an energetic, humorous night with audience participation.
Some newcomers to the Ottawa Grassroots scene this year are Isabelle Delage, Jack Pine, Jazmine Wykes, Steve Palmer and Tao Hipwell. This talented roster of performers is presented as part of the festival’s free daytime programming Saturday and Sunday. More performers will be confirmed in the weeks ahead.
Tickets are needed for evening performances and are priced to be affordable for everyone, especially families: Saturday (Lynn Miles) $30, Friday (Sneezy Waters) $25 and Thursday (Jean-Marc Lalonde) $20. A festival pass is a mere $49 if purchased on the website at www.ottawagrassrootsfestival.com. Unique to Grassroots, children 15 and under accompanied by an adult are free.
The Ottawa Grassroots Festival, a not-for-profit, is made possible by the dedication of over 100 volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, there are opportunities to help with pre-fest work and also during the event. Sign up via the volunteer link on the festival website at www.ottawagrassrootsfestival.com.
Mark your calendars, folks, this festival is definitely worth your attention and participation!
Grace Smith is a member of the Ottawa Grassroots Festival board of directors and is responsible for publicity and communications.
Seventeen Voyces presents Chaplin’s gold with silver sound
by Margret Brady Nankivell
Seventeen Voyces, Ottawa’s premier chamber choir, will present Charlie Chaplin’s silent film comedy The Gold Rush on Friday, February 23 and Saturday, February 24, 7:30 pm, at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in the Glebe. Kevin Reeves will direct the choir in singing a variety of songs ranging from baroque to contemporary with some jazz and spirituals thrown in as well.
Virtuoso organist Matthew Larkin will demonstrate his remarkable ability to interpret the mood and action of silent films. He has worked with Seventeen Voyces on silent film choral adaptations every year since Reeves organized the first such presentation, Theodore Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, more than 10 years ago.
“Selecting choral music to match comedies is far more challenging than finding the right accompaniment for dramas,” says Reeves, whose last comedic film presentation was Buster Keaton’s The General in 2010.
“Since we have done two massive biblical epics in a row, it was time to have a comedy which clocked in under two hours,” he says. “I chose Gold Rush because Seventeen Voyces already presented Buster Keaton’s masterpiece and I felt Chaplin was getting shortchanged.”
Chaplin’s film about a prospector at the time of the Klondike gold rush was released in 1925 and is one of his most acclaimed works. Chaplin famously said it was the one he wished to be remembered for most. Complete with blizzards, bar rooms and an invading bear, the film depicts the struggles of life in the Klondike.
The film, which will be projected on a large screen, is excellent family entertainment and includes some memorable scenes of frugal living.
Georgia Hale, a beautiful Miss America Pageant contestant – who failed to make a successful transition from silent film to sound – plays the love interest. Happily for Hale, she went on to become a successful real estate agent.
Reeves has selected with the assistance of Barbara Chamberlin, director of the Whitehorse Community Choir, a number of rarely heard folksongs related to the north. They include “Yukon River,” “Hudson Bay Boys,” and “The Scout” by Stephen Chatman, professor of composition at the University of British Columbia.
Other choral works include works by Elgar, Holst and Kodaly, as well as Thomas Ravenscroft’s delightful “Toss the Pot” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia.” A highlight will be Lakmé de Delibes’ effervescent “Flower Duet.”
Margret B. Nankivell is a long-time St. Matthew’s parishioner and regular contributor on music to the Glebe Report.
Seventeen Voyces presents Charlie Chaplin in
The Gold Rush,
Friday, Feb. 23 & Saturday, Feb. 24, 7:30 p.m.
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, 130 Glebe Ave., near Bank St. Adults: $25; Students: $15. www.seventeenvoyces.ca
or Compact Music, Book Bazaar, Leading Note and Herb & Spice, Wellington West.
In Concert for Cambodia
by Flora Liebich and Cathy Mains
The community is warmly invited to the 12th annual In Concert for Cambodia (IC4C) fundraiser, hosted by CBC Radio’s Laurence Wall. The guest of honour will be His Excellency, Per Sjøgren, Ambassador of Sweden to Canada. Sweden is highly supportive of human rights internationally and has a particular interest in the increasingly challenging situation in Cambodia.
We have a terrific lineup of musicians, including Peter Woods (MacKay United Church minister) on jazz saxophone, accompanied by the legendary Brian Browne on piano, Danielo and Maria Krstic on violin (Maria Krstic, now 15, is a multi-year winner of the Canada Music Competition), Kyle Burghout and Jane Cory on fiddle (Burghout is the IC4C youth coordinator and winner of the 2015 Eastern North America Fiddling Competition) as well as cello, vocals, piano and traditional Cambodian music! Complimentary refreshments and a silent auction will follow the concert.
This youth-based volunteer initiative was started in 2006 by 13-year-old Ottawa violinist Laurent Côté to raise funds for the Peaceful Children’s Homes (PCH) in Cambodia. Since then, successive groups of young Ottawa musicians have volunteered their time and talents for this worthwhile cause. Many of the musicians are students or graduates of the University of Ottawa, while others are rising stars in the world of music.
The Peaceful Children’s Homes were created in 1994 to provide a permanent home for unaccompanied children returning from refugee camps on the Thai border in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation. Today, the homes take in children who have been orphaned, abandoned or rescued from the street from domestic violence or from human trafficking. All proceeds from our concerts go directly to the homes for food, medical care, self-sufficiency projects, as well as education. IC4C is proud to support the university studies of four talented young people from the homes, including a young woman studying law.
IC4C representatives visited the Peaceful Children’s Homes in December 2015 and found that our donations are being well used. We met many young people, now successfully employed and raising their own families, whose lives have been transformed by the homes. The current PCH director grew up as a child in the homes and has now returned after completing university and working abroad` to “give back.”
We encourage you to purchase your tickets in advance! Tickets ($20/adult, $15/student, $10/12-years and under) are available on the IC4C website: inconcert4cambodia.wordpress.com and at Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood Avenue). Tickets will also be available at the church door ($25/adult).
Flora Liebich is coordinator of this year’s In Concert for Cambodia. Cathy Mains is a member of the IC4C organizing team and a Glebe resident.
In Concert for Cambodia
Sunday, March 11, 2 p.m.
MacKay United Church,
39 Dufferin Road
Ron Weiss to premier his solo album
by Reina Cowan
Glebe area musician Ron Weiss will take to the stage next month, premiering his full-length debut solo album Arrow & Heart at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage to show Ottawa listeners his skills as a solo artist.
Weiss is performing the album on March 7, alongside Brian Asselin, TVA La Voix runner-up Rebecca Noelle and other mostly Ottawa-based artists.
This project has been a long time in the making. According to Weiss, almost 40 years of inspiration, love and hard work have gone into the album.
“When I was 20, I was basically a high school dropout living with my brother in Vancouver and playing guitar and piano more than six hours a day, headed, or hoping really, for a career in music,” he said.
Weiss was originally from Montreal and had hoped to attend Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music to eventually pursue a musical career professionally. But after returning to Montreal and meeting his wife, Debbie Halton-Weiss, his focus shifted. Weiss chose to focus on family and his career for many years, eventually studying at university and training as a doctor.
“My priority was to have a family and have children. So I put music aside for many, many years,” he said. “About 20 years ago, my wife was going on an extended trip out of town. She handed me an envelope with $400 in it. She said ‘buy yourself a guitar’,” recalls Weiss. “She knew that music was important to me and that I should start getting back into it.”
And he did buy that guitar. Weiss started playing, writing and eventually performing gigs around Ottawa for the first time in 20 years. After early open mic shows, he formed the group docweissband with whom he performed for three and a half years.
After the band split up, Weiss fulfilled his long time dream of attending the Berklee College of Music for an online master’s certificate in songwriting, strengthening his skills as an artist.
“It taught me a ton about what I was doing poorly and what I could do better,” Weiss reflected. Weiss said he feels fortunate to have worked with skilled collaborators who are Ottawa-based. “It’s kind of an undiscovered secret, I think, that we have a collection of really top-notch musicians here,” he said. “These are special, talented people. I’m sure I would find a community in other cities but Ottawa is a special place. It’s small and yet big. It’s cosmopolitan in spite of its size.”
Arrow & Heart blends Weiss’ unique, classically trained finger-style guitar playing with a wide array of influences, from Motown to folk, jazz, pop and soul elements. Notes of French horn, bold saxophones and, of course, Weiss’ refined guitar melodies intertwine, keeping listeners on their toes. Although it blends upbeat songs with slower ballads, there is a clear and unwavering energy throughout. Weiss cites artists like James Taylor, Hall and Oates, and Joni Mitchell as inspirations.
The titular track “Arrow & Heart” is a lesson on life’s great decisions.
“The song was inspired with the birth of my first grandchild,” he said. “When my first child was born, I wrote a song for her and I thought that I would write a song of advice for my grandchild as well,” he laughed. “You can either spread joy or you can spread sorrow. That’s what the song says: you have the choice.”
His song “Be a Child” draws on Weiss’ earliest memories of growing up with his grandfather who took care of him until age three.
“Normally a child doesn’t have memories from the first three years of life, but I remember him vividly. Subconsciously”, Weiss said, “it’s really probably about his love.”
But the driving force and main inspiration behind this album is Weiss’ love for his wife Debbie Halton-Weiss.
“The most important thing for me in writing is that I’m very lucky that I have a muse because not everybody has that and it is a wonderful thing to have that inspiration over this period of time. There’s a lot of love songs in the world but I don’t seem to run out of ideas,” he chuckled.
The concert at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 7. Tickets are on sale from the NAC’s website, by phone or in person.
Reina Cowan grew up in the Old Ottawa South neighbourhood and is a third-year Carleton journalism student.
Celebrating Black History Month in the Glebe
by John Gall and Michael Curtis Hanna
Black History Month will have a distinctive voice in the Glebe when, on Saturday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. Fourth Avenue Baptist Church will host a celebration of black history with the Big Soul Project choir, Deep Groove Band and special guest soloist Michael Curtis Hanna for an evening of joyous historic song and music.
This year marks the 120th anniversary of Fourth Avenue Baptist Church. It continues to be a community anchor, both spiritually and through music. The church is home to the Big Soul Project community choir and if you walk by on a Monday evening you just might hear the choir’s 135 members practising (many of whom live in the Glebe). So, it’s fitting that church, choir and band come together to celebrate Black History Month.
Black History Month honours the contribution of people of African descent to the Canadian mosaic. It showcases black culture and traditions as well as the contributions to world communities. Music and song are two powerful expressions during this month of celebrations.
Ottawa’s Big Soul Project just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Along with the talented Deep Groove Band, Big Soul Project entertains and inspires audiences with songs performed with a soulful beat. They have performed at Westfest, Bluesfest, Lansdowne Park, the Black Sheep Inn and for Canada 150 celebrations. The choir’s most important outreach is through its performances to raise funds for charities, such as in support of victims of the Fort McMurray fire and for the Grammas to Ambuyas to benefit the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The choir uses the proceeds from its Christmas concert to give back to community charities by performing at their fundraisers throughout the year.
In April, Big Soul Project will perform a benefit concert for TEMBO (Tanzania Education and Micro-business Opportunity). In June, they will perform at a fundraiser in support of the Glebe’s FACES (First Avenue Churches and Community Embracing Sponsorship), supporting refugees. Keep your eyes out for details.
The enthusiastic musical direction of Roxanne Goodman epitomizes Big Soul Project’s logo, “Lifting you higher.” Indeed, you will be lifted high in song with Goodman and the choir on February 24. In addition, guest soloist Hanna’s stellar voice will fill the church. Hanna is well known in Ottawa for his soul stirring spirituals performed nationally and internationally. His father impressed upon him that music is food for the soul, saying, “Learn to share it and it will care for you.” Choir members can attest to this advice as do both Goodman and Hanna. Having them together to celebrate Black History Month is a real treat for the Glebe community.
So, make it a date! Come lift your voices and hearts with Big Soul Project and Hanna on Saturday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.). It all takes place at Fourth Avenue Baptist Church, 109A Fourth Avenue (at the corner of Bank). Tickets are $20, with children under 12 admitted free, and are available online via Eventbrite at: www.bigsoulproject.com, and through the church office at: 613-236-1804 (www.fourthavenuebaptist.ca).
John Gall is a member of Big Soul Project. Michael Curtis Hanna is a renowned Ottawa and international performer and member of Fourth Avenue Baptist Church.